Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen: World’s first Deaf Woman Member of Parliament


English translation: Ixone Sáenz Paraíso

Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen was the first Deaf woman member of Parliament in South Africa and she might also be the first of the world. She is a Sign Language user too.

La parlamentaria sorda de Sudáfrica Wilma Newhoudt durante una intervención en lengua de signos
Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen (image: Deafdigest)

Wilma graduated in Social Work at Gallaudet University in 1992 (she also holds a Master's degree, obtained in 2005). Two years later she returned to South Africa to work with the Deaf Community in a non-governmental organization in Cape Town, the second most populous city in South Africa after Johannesburg.

In 1999, she was elected member of the Parliament of South Africa on the electoral list of the African National Congress (ANC). At first, she was forced to follow the interventions of the parliamentarians through lip-reading, but immediately she realised that most of the 399 parliamentarians sat too far away to be able to read their lips. Therefore, they provided her Sign Language interpreters whom she worked with for 15 years. In the following video, you can watch a parliamentary intervention by Wilma (without subtitles).

As part of Wilma’s political responsibilities, she has worked intensely for Deaf people’s rights, focusing her efforts on improving the accessibility of the media by incorporating an increased presence of Sign Language and subtitling.

In 2013, when the scandal of the fake Sign Language interpreter happened at Nelson Mandela's memorial service, she was one of the first people to denounce it via twitter:

In 2014, Wilma was not re-elected to be on the list of the ANC party members. Despite this, Wilma holds the honour of being the world’s first Deaf woman member of Parliament who used Sign Language and provided public service for 15 years in the parliamentary Chamber, demonstrating with this that Deaf people have a lot to contribute to the enrichment of the political life.


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